8 February 2016

It’s clear that the EU referendum campaign has been heating up in the past few days, firstly in anticipation of the proposed renegotiated deal and then in response to it. Both sides like to claim the moral high ground and both criticise each other for scaremongering. Unlike the Scottish referendum where project fear was a bit more one sided, so far both sides have engaged in their own brands of scaremongering and have failed to put any real positive vision forward to their viewpoint be it Remain or Leave.

Immigration and security

This has been at the forefront of the debate and Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesman argued today that if the UK left the EU, asylum seekers would flood to the UK overnight.

The point here is about a huge number of people coming to the UK effectively overnight to claim asylum. So you’re literally having thousands of people coming to the UK overnight to claim asylum in Folkestone or other entry points on the south coast.

As we noted in our ten questions for each side of the EU referendum campaign, the remain side will have to work hard to provide concrete evidence of greater security risks outside the EU – so far it has largely relied on assertions. When it comes to the Le Touquet treaty, there is a risk that it might cease to apply but ultimately it is nearly impossible to guess how the French might react post Brexit or exactly how this would impact their enforcement efforts at the border. This is not to say the Leave side is any better, there are consistent warnings about the “risks to remain” and in particular the threat of continued migration and the lack of control over our borders – see sample tweet from UKIP leader Nigel Farage below. The point continues to be missed that being outside of the Schengen zone, the UK has maintained control over its borders.


Similarly, in simplified terms, both sides seem to be scaremongering on influence. The Remain side suggests that if we leave the EU our global influence will be significantly diminished and we will be a medium sized state adrift in the world. The UK would continue to be one of two military powers in Europe, the fifth largest economy in the world and one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council. The Leave side argues that by remaining in the EU the UK will see its views overrun by the Eurozone and will have whatever little influence it has in the EU further diminished as the Eurozone moves to a political super state.

As we have pointed out this is no doubt a risk, but reforms in terms of changes to ever closer union, safeguards for non-Eurozone countries and double majority at the European Banking Authority are positive steps on this front. Add to the fact the UK retains a veto on treaty change (which would be needed for a step towards political union) and the five presidents report laying out the Eurozone’s future remains unambitious and does not include the UK, the UK’s position while not as clear cut as desired does have protections.

There are also plenty of other arguments from either side which don’t directly mirror each other but still feed the project fear:

  • The Remain side continues to warn that leaving the EU would decimate our science industry and our universities despite little evidence for this. It has also begun warning of the potential widespread environmental damage from Brexit, despite the UK’s longstanding environmental credentials – the UK has driven climate change legislation at the EU level and has its own carbon price well above that of the EU’s Emission Trading Scheme.
  • The Leave side continuously warns of the UK being forced to pay more into the EU budget or being subject to EU wide taxes despite the UK maintaining a veto on both. Warnings on contributions to future Eurozone bailouts are also undermined by guarantees in the renegotiated deal.

All of this is not to say none of these arguments have any merit. Some do, some don’t, though all tend to be quite exaggerated. But more importantly they are all very negative arguments designed to highlight the risks associated with either Remain or Leave. The reality is that so far this campaign has largely been project fear meets project fear. Neither side can really claim to be above the fray on this front. This also suggests that the campaign will predominantly be fought on the issue of risk. With this in mind the credibility of the campaigns in the eyes of the voters and the trust voters put in them will become increasingly important – therefore their figureheads will also be particularly important.